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Making Strides: Taking the Caribbean Worldwide

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe

(A lecture delivered to the Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA),
Williams College, Massachusetts, on March 6, 2005)

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;
the point, however is to change it.

--Karl Marx, Theses on Freurbach

I was really intrigued when Zophia Edwards invited me to speak on the topic, "Making Strides: Taking the Caribbean Worldwide." In the first place, I am sure that Zophia and her fellow students find themselves at schools such as Williams, Wellesley and Harvard, to name but a few such schools, where they are indeed making strides in that they are becoming what they want to become and that is all to the good. Today, in the Caribbean, we need as many Zophias as we can find and we must do everything in our power to help them to achieve all the things they wish to achieve. However, there is a another group of persons of whom we must be concerned: those young people, particularly young men, who have dropped out of school, many of whom have decided to engage in anti-social activities and cannot even function productively in their societies. It is almost as though their societies have taken a giant leap away from them and they are still playing catch up.

Some weeks ago, some of the young people of my organization sent me an outline of a program they will conduct in the next two weeks. Before I tell you about the program, let me say that I am the president of NAEAP, an organization that is in its seventh year of existence and which keeps chugging along in the best way it can. In their outline, they proposed that we do a program called "Youth at Risk." It read: "This program aims to inculcate an acceptable level of literacy in the students through several short programs designed specifically for young men who may have dropped out of school or who, although they may have completed high school, still are incapable of fulfilling basic requirements of modern societies. The workshop will focus on developing oral and written skills and providing different life skills that will assist them in their development and their further integration into modern society" (see So that while some of us may be making strides the question remains: what does it really entail to have us all make strides and to take the Caribbean worldwide. Just as importantly, it begs the question: what does it mean to take the Caribbean worldwide in any serious sense. After all, the Caribbean is already part of the world.

For starters, we need to acknowledge that the Caribbean has always been one of the most modern states in the contemporary world. In his preface to the Black Jacobins, C. L. R. James wrote:
"The sugar plantation has been the most civilizing as well as the most demoralizing influence in West Indian development. When three centuries ago the slaves came to the West Indies, they entered directly into the large-scale agriculture of the sugar plantation, which was a modern system. It further required that the slaves live together in a social relation far closer than any proletariat of the time. The cane when reaped had to be rapidly transported to what was factory production. The product was shipped abroad for sale. Even the cloth the slaves wore and the food they ate was imported. The Negroes, therefore, from the very start lived a life that was in its essence a modern life. That is their history-as far as I have been able to discover, a unique history" (Black Jacobins, p. 392).
As James has said, we are a modern people. From the inception, we have been tied into the contemporary world. In the process, we have produced people such as Toussaint, Fidel Castro, Jose Marti, Eric Williams, Norman Manley, Garfield Sobers, Learie Nicholas Constantine, Bob Marley, and so on. But there is another sleeper that you must know about. Any time you look at your US ten dollar you will see the likeness of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, the nation's first Treasury secretary, George Washington's aide-de-camp, a member of the Constitutional Convention, the leading author of the Federalist Papers, and the head of the Federalist Party. What you may not know is that Alexander Hamilton, a native of Nevis, lived in St. Croix until he was about eighteen years old when he left for the United States to attend what is now known as Columbia University. More than any of the other founding fathers, Hamilton did the most to transform the United States into one of the most powerful, modern nation-states, by creating a central bank, a funded debt, a mint, a customs service, manufacturing subsidies etc. Ron Chernow notes: "He had prevailed in almost every major program he had sponsored-whether the bank, assumption, funding the public debt, the tax system, the Customs Service, or the Coast Guard-despite years of complaints and bitter smears. Bankrupt when Hamilton took office [as Treasury Secretary], the United States [around 1795] now enjoyed a credit rating equal to that of any European nation. He had laid the ground work for both liberal democracy and capitalism and helped to transform the role of the president from passive administrator to active policy maker, creating the institutional scaffolding for America's future emergence as a great power" (Alexander Hamilton, p. 481).

Therefore, you can take comfort from the fact that we, as Caribbean people, began our journey on this earth as a modern people, making strides and contributing to the transformation of the world. We can even take pride in the fact that it was a West Indian who pushed the United States towards becoming a federated state when Thomas Jefferson promulgated the virtues of an agrarian Eden and a slaveholding society. It might be some comfort to know that Hamilton was talking about the abolition of the slaves, the creation of a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary. This, too, is part of our contribution to the modern world.

But I am sure that you are more concerned about now rather than then, today rather than yesterday although it takes the yesterdays to make the todays. In her discussion with me Zophia said her fellow students were concerned about seeing the Caribbean move forward as a single entity rather than speaking about the glories of the individual territories. She seemed to suggest that what we had done in music, sports, culture, etc. as individuals could take us to a higher level as David Rudder suggested if were worked more as a collective. Needless to say, the one is dialectically related to the other. Today, our concerns are about both. However, thinking globally is as important as what we do locally. The trick is to combine the two.

To be sure, our quest for regional integration began many years ago. In my own lifetime I have seen the experiment with a West Indian Federation that was undertaken in 1958. Four years later, it came to naught. A few years later, in 1973, departing from the purely political goals to which the Federation aspired, we sought to organize our economic cooperation under the banner of institutions such as CARICOM. Lo and behold, CARICOM was not as successful as we would have liked it to be. In a paper entitled, "Caribbean Economic Integration" Professor Trevor Farrell writes: "When Caricom was born thirty years ago, its architects envisioned that with the failure of political integration, economic integration along with functional cooperation would become the centerpiece of the integration movement. Economic integration was expected to center around resource and production integration, in which production operations would draw on raw materials and intermediate inputs from different territories. The dream that perhaps best captured this concept was the vision of metal working industry based on aluminum production that was spawned from the marriage of Jamaica and Guyanese bauxite with Trinidad and Tobago energy resources." Things, he said, turned out differently: "Intra-regional trade in the first couple of decades of CARICOM's existence turned out to be rather disappointing both in terms of volume and in terms of how narrow the network of trading relationships turned out to be. One country, Trinidad and Tobago, ended up dominating intra-regional trade. Many countries in the region engaged in little trade with others. By the early 1990's, after some twenty years of regional economic integration, less than 7% of the region's imports were sourced from within the region." Professor Farrell goes on to tell us that economic integration in the Caribbean has taken place but not in the ways in which the founders of CARICOM envisaged. We will come back to this point.

Apart from CARICOM-at the level of the economic integration-our present leaders seek to establish a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that is intended to be a regional judicial tribunal that will replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Additionally, the CCJ will be vested "with an original jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community. In effect, the CCJ would exercise both an appellate and an original jurisdiction." It would perform functions such as those that the European Court of Justice and the International Court of Justice perform. Instead of appealing to people in England, the home of the Privy Council, who know very little about us, we will now be able to make judgments about ourselves without the intervention of others. To be sure, there are obstacles. Many doubt the professional competence of our judges, believe that they really cannot make un-biased judgments and feel that leaving things in the hands of the Privy Council is just fine.

The issues, however, is not as easy as it seems. Recently, the Jamaican government took a Bill to the Privy Council so as to incorporate the CCJ into its Legislature to access the Court as it were. The Opposition challenged it. They argued that if the Jamaican Government wanted to make the CCJ a part of the Constitution it needed to have a referendum. The Privy Council agreed with the Opposition and ruled that if Jamaica wants to access the CCJ it will have to have a referendum on the same. In Trinidad and Tobago the CCJ legislation was passed but it only allows for Original jurisdiction. The Barbados legislature voted for the CCJ to have both original and appellate jurisdiction. Guyana does not accept the Privy Council so there is no problem there. The Bahamas will contribute financially to the CCJ but would not join it. Most of the countries agreed to use the CCJ for the CSME but not for appellate jurisdiction. In this regard, the Privy Council is still holding forth. Yet, it seems that the justification that has been put out for the creation of the CCJ still holds firm: "As an Appeal Court, the CCJ is designed to give moral leadership to our societies. As an international Court, the CCJ will ensure that the regional international movement develops along a structured, sustainable and rule-based entity. More importantly, as the tribunal responsible for interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community, including CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the CCJ will be the guarantor of the rights of national, accorded by the Revised Treaty. Important rights in this context are the rights of skilled professionals to practice their professionals in any jurisdiction of the Community and for artisans and other specified categories of skills to provide services as independent contractors in any area of the Caribbean Community."

In this regard, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is a good and desirable thing. In this context, once more I want to draw on Professor Farrell's paper on "Caribbean Economic Integration." He notes that by the 1990s, new developments in economic integration began to take place in the region. He said that these new developments focused on four main areas:
  1. Intra-regional direct investment and the concomitant emergence of regional multinationals;
  2. Growth in intra-regional portfolio investment
  3. The growth and development of a regional capital market
  4. Regional firms beginning to make use of the offshore centers that have appeared in all of the O.E.C.S. states and in Barbados, adding to the long time centers such as the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands."
Professor Farrell goes on to demonstrate the growth that has taken place in all of these areas and how it is taking place in spite of all of the best laid plans of our economic planners. Yet, in this entire scenario, he identifies three important points which I believe it will be wise to contemplate since you are concerned with the Caribbean making strides and taking its place in the big, wide world of commerce and culture. In his interviews with some of the leaders of business, many of them were concerned about "the problem of finding people at managerial and professional levels with the kind of skill and experience that their operations required to go forward. While the specific compendium of skills and qualities desired was not articulated in any detail, leaders were almost unanimous in complaining that what they wanted was very difficult to find, and that the region's education system and its major university were not doing the job." This is an area in which our students at colleges such as these may want to give some attention. It certainly is an opportunity; it is also a challenge.

In the second instance, he notes the importance of social contacts and the need to development. You call it networking but I think Professor Farrell is talking about networking in a much more specific manner. He says,
"Yet another area that current policy needs to speak to is the promotion of more social contacts within the region-for economic purposes. Our research into what has actually been happening identifies this sociological issue as one of those drivers of integration that while well recognized has been significantly undervalued in terms of practical policy making. People go after profit opportunities that they become aware of. What opportunities they become aware of depends on who they are in contact with. Broadening regional social networks is very valuable. This does not mean that just any and all types of social contact will do. What is required is economically purposive social contacts-for example Business Forums, which are explicitly designed to bring carefully selected business people together for the specific purposes of crafting deals. (A related type of contact that proves to be of great long term value is student internships in regional industry."
The truth here is self-evident. A member of a Caribbean Club on any campus in the USA already begins to establish concrete contacts with students from all of the islands. Given such contacts you can really begin to give serious thought as to how you see yourself getting together in the present moment to craft relationships for the future. Your social interaction here is important. Springing from these seeds lasting friendships can be grown and cultivated and can lead to long-term business partnerships. Do not take any one of your friends for granted. He or she may be the next CEO or owner of Sandals, RBTT or Goddards, or the prime minister of Jamaica.

The third point that Professor Farrell makes has to do with the outward movement of economic activity among Caribbean entrepreneurs. No longer are they confined to doing business only to the English-speaking countries. Recently, one of our entrepreneurs bought an insurance firm in Ireland for L250 million British pounds. Some are turning to Latin America while others are doing active business in the Dominican Republic which brings up the question of your language skills. He says,
"Companies are also having to learn how to operate cross-culturally, even within the English-speaking Caribbean. As they move into other linguistic areas, the challenge of language skills arises in addition to the other dimensions of culture and styles. Learning how to transfer technology across borders and how to build and leverage capabilities across several operations in several counties is another issue that is currently occupying the minds of the cutting edge companies in the region. All of this obviously has profound implications for training institutions and for universities in the region."
Suffice it to say, that you are in the best place to prepare for these challenges. Each of you needs to pick up another language, perhaps two. Needless to say, we need to get out of our parochialism and engage the culture of those in the larger Caribbean and Latin American area. We usually come up North. Perhaps this is a good time to go South of the border and learn about what our neighbors are doing. In this context, the attempt of the education system in Trinidad and Tobago to make each of its students learn Spanish is a commendable first step in this regard.

All of these things having been said, I want to get back to those citizens in the Caribbean who have not been as fortunate as those of you who find yourself here and what I think is your obligation to those who are not here, the region and its peoples. You would remember that Professor Farrell comment on the long term benefit in student internships in regional industry. I want to suggest that a similar kind of value can emerge from students who engage and work with organizations on the ground who are doing work to improve the nature of our societies. In this context, I would want to take one of the countries that I know best. As you perhaps know, Trinidad and Tobago is enjoying quite a boom from its energy industries. Yet, even as its coffers overflow with dollars, the crime tend to escalate and I am not too sure that we are doing as much as we can to grow our social capital. In fact, many of us do not seem to realize that there is a benefit to be derived from participating in and building the social organizations that we find in these societies. Yet, given where you sit, given the skills that you acquire here; there is much you can do to contribute to build the social fabric of our societies.

As I indicated to you earlier, some of the younger members of my organization, the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, are in the process of putting together a Literary Program for brothers who are not quire making it an who, as we know, can easily get into anti-social behavior if they are not attended to and treated as regular folks. The program begins in two weeks and some of my Wellesley students may be going down there for two weeks to participate in this program. During the summer, partnering with COSTATT, the community college system, we intend to run a six weeks leadership course for about fifty young leaders of the Caribbean. In this context, we hope to attract student from about ten Caribbean countries and see how we can come together to speak about some of the common problems of the area. Luckily, we may be able to offer some credits for this course. Yet, the point remains, organizations such as ours, with little or no resources are always trying to do things to better the lives of our people on the ground. The big question is this: how can you help?

Well, I suspect that you can help in many ways. First, you can think of doing an internship with organizations such as ours in which you bring your skills and participate in regional building with young people such as yourself. Certainly, your example could be of enormous importance to people who share some of your values and can understand you in ways that I cannot and those of my age group cannot. Secondly, you can adopt a group such as ours and make some financial contributions to them. As you must know, it takes a certain amount of money just to carry on our affairs (that is, run our office on a monthly basis.) Recently, there was a break-in in our office, our computer was stolen. We are yet to replace that computer. Perhaps you can help in this area. Third, such an association can bring you back home to your people. I know when we get to these climes and we see the opportunities we sometime find it difficult to return home. Greater understanding our problems from the ground; a more intimate association with individuals and groups who are trying to make life better for those at home can be an inspiration to all of you who want to make life better for the brothers, sisters, and cousins that you left at home. In this context, you must remember that incentives are not and cannot always be material. Sometimes, moral incentives, the sense of fulfillment that one receives from doing a task and a belief that one is following one's vocation on this earth can be a very important thing. I want to suggest that in making strides and taking the Caribbean worldwide involves, to some degree, making sure that all is well on the ground. In this context, grounding with your brothers, as Walter Rodney suggested some years ago, might be an important consideration at this point of your career.

Finally, there is one last consideration. It has to do with you in your individual lives as you seek to make your vocational choices. Please remember that you have only one life to live. Live it well. Seek to do the things that you want to do; the things that bring you joy and make you happy. Try to enjoy each moment your live. But, as you make your choices, I leave you with the words of two major philosophers; one from the nineteenth century and one from the twentieth century. In August, 1835, as Karl Marx reflected on the ingredients that should go into his decision as to the type of career he should choose. In an essay, entitled, "Reflections of a Young Man on the Choice of a Professor," he uttered the following words:
"Nature herself has determined the sphere of activity in which the animal should move, and it peacefully moves within that sphere, without attempting to go beyond it, without even an inkling of any other. To man, too, the Deity gave a general aim, that of ennobling mankind and himself, but he left it to man to seek the means by which this aim can be achieved; he left it to him to choose the position in society most suited to him, from which he can best uplift himself.

This choice is a great privilege of man over the rest of creation, but at the same time it is an act which can destroy his whole life, frustrate all his plans, and make him unhappy. Serious consideration of this choice, therefore, is certainly the first duty of a young man who is beginning his career and does not want to leave his most important affairs to chance."
After noting some of the considerations that should be taken into consideration when we chose a career, he ends on the following note:
"One who chooses a profession he values highly will shudder at the idea of being unworthy of it; he will act nobly if only because his position in society is a noble one. But the chief guide which must decide us in the choice of a profession is the welfare of mankind and our own perfection. It should not be thought that these two interests could be in conflict, that one would have to destroy the other; on the contrary, man's nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working for the perfection, for the good, of his fellow men.

If he works only for himself, he may perhaps become a famous man of learning, a great sage, an excellent poet, but he can never be a perfect, truly great man.

History call those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy; religion itself teaches us that the ideal being whom all strive to copy sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, and who would dare set at naught such judgments?

If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind [I would even say our country], no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of a noble people."
The second philosopher is one whom we know very well. His name is Bob Nestor Marley. The song is called "Pass It On." The words are analogous to what Marx said in "Reflections." Marley puts it even more simply. He said: "Live for yourself and you live in vain. / Live for others, and you live again. / In the kingdom of Jah, Man shall reign;/ Pass it on; pass it on."

Just think it over. You are the ones who must decide. I only seek to pass on the message. May God Bless you as you choose your choice of career and may you seek always to give yourself to your people.

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